'The 3-Cases-at-Once Incident'

by Phineas Redux

—OOO—

Summary:— Fiona 'Fay' Cartwright & Alice 'Al' Drever are private detectives, and lovers, in an East Coast American city in the 1930's. The ladies become involved in a convoluted group of cases.

Disclaimer:— All characters are copyright ©2019 to the author. All characters in this story are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Caution:— There is some light swearing in this story.

—O—

"It ain't so often we have to bring in outside help. This's jest one o'those times, is all."

"Yes, I know, but all the same." Alice wasn't happy. "You never know where you are, with extra hands; no training with them. And there are two, er, too?"

"Our caseload's gotten big suddenly, as you perfectly well know." Fiona pursed her lips acidly. "We may be good, but we ain't perfect, or all-encompassing. We got'ta have help on these cases, stands t'reason."

"Oh, I ain't complaining—well, I suppose I am, actually; but not in that way."

"What way's that, madam?"

"Come off it, Fay."

Alice was wet, cold, miserable, and slightly nervous as she crouched in the damp night air behind a tall stand of cut lumber in Rauschmann's Lumber Yard, on the outskirts of Delacote City, NH, this raw night of June, 1934. But before she could continue her diatribe there came an interruption.

"Ho-ho," Fiona put a restraining hand on her lover's shoulder. "Action, at last. Someone's moving about down by the main gate. Keep stum, gal."

"—'course I'll keep stum."

"Well, do it, then,—shh-ush."

Over by the high interlinked wire fence, with its double-gate, which made up the entrance to the muddy confines of the Yard proper there was indeed some evidence of activity. The fact that the last time, a few minutes ago, Alice had consulted her wristwatch with the help of a match it had been just after one a.m. seemed to indicate this movement was hardly kosher. The ladies crouched lower, all their mental antennae working overtime. Fiona touched Alice's side gently, indicating the large automatic she held in her right hand and raising her eyebrow enquiringly. Alice nodded in answer, waving her .38 Smith and Wesson revolver to show her own readiness for any likely funny business.

The Lumber Yard was set on a small industrial area on the outmost borders of the western boundary of the city. The main gate exited onto an empty access road winding its way between a multitude of old warehouses and small factory units; now all closed, dark, and unoccupied. Alice's Plymouth two-seater had been strategically placed behind one of the single-storey office buildings of the yard, out of sight. Now, as the women crouched listening, they heard both the continued sounds of someone fumbling with metal objects at the gate while, some distance off but coming nearer by the minute, the low growl of a medium sized truck gave a low background rumble to the scene. The truck's engine note slackened as it pulled-up close by, then Fiona nudged her compatriot in the side and half-rose to move towards the gate.

As she did so, it being dark as, er, night, her left shoe tripped against an unseen impediment on the ground in her path. She staggered against Alice, clutching out with her left hand to regain her balance, and her .45 Colt automatic in her right hand slipped out of her grip. It sailed, unseen by both women, to the ground revolving in a counter-clockwise motion before landing on the edge of a thick plank and firing with a crashing explosion each of the women individually thought could have been heard in Peking.

Instantly the small noises at the gate, where someone had been in the midst of dealing with the two padlocks, stopped and the truck's engine once more sprang to life. But this time with no attempt to hide itself; instead the engine roared at full throttle and the ladies distinctly heard it racing on down the road outside the yard and disappearing into the distance.

"Jee-sus f-ckin' Chr-st, why in hell'd you have t'do that?"

"Chr-st, I didn't mean it. Jeez." Fiona grabbed Alice's shoulder, steering her in the direction of the still invisible Plymouth. "Come on, we may still catch up with the b-gg-rs, if we're lucky."

"Haven't been so far tonight; why should it change for us now?" Alice making her position clear as they ran over the uneven cluttered ground towards the low-roofed office. "Come on, climb in quick. Right, let's get going—"

Rwwaaar, Grrrwwr, Aaarrrwwr.

"Well, start the bloody thing, lady; we got places t'be."

"Jeez, think the bloody carburettor's blocked, or flooded, or dam' broken, or somethin'."

"Chr-st, get this heap goin', an' I mean dam' now, gal."

Grrwwaar, Hhwwgggaah, Hgggrraar.

"God, it's dam' dead, is what."

"Jee-suus Chr-st." Fiona flung her arms wide, or as much so as the confines of the Plymouth's cab allowed. "So much fer catchin' the thieves; what are we, detectives, or extras in a dam' Keaton movie. Don't even attempt t'answer that, lady, or I'll—I'll, do something colossal."

"Can't help the bloody engine being flooded with the rain, can I?"

"Grrrawwr."

—O—

The living-room of the condominium in the Collister Building, Casemount Street, The Heights, Delacote City, NH, in the early morning of June 1934, was warm, brightly lit by off-set gentle lighting, and smelled of violas. Fiona sat on a long sofa, while Alice bent over a small table mixing a cocktail of her own devising, mostly dry gin and vodka with a touch of bitters. Having concocted the devilish mixture she brought two glasses over and sat by the side of her lover, arm comfortably to arm, passing the glass to her thirsty friend with a grin.

"Dam' shame the ol' Plymouth dyin' like that, just when she was most needed, an' all."

Knowing the important issues in Life full-well Fiona forbore to answer until she had sunk nearly a third of the cocktail. Considering the effect this immediately began to have on her interior operations, she nodded approvingly, and decided not to blow her top after all.

"Yuu-um, y'certainly know your way round alcohol, darlin'." Fiona nestled closer still to her inamorata. "Let's ferget the dam' Plymouth; I've been tellin' ya fer weeks, anyway, you should trade that heap in for a new DeSoto."

"Thanks awfully." Alice smiled quietly, well aware she had averted a storm by her own wily actions. "So, what now? How're we doing on all these other dam' mixed up cases?"

"Only two others, darlin'." Fiona was now beginning to feel relaxed and calm. "The Frederick's Store, an' the Mollie Milligan affair."

"You make it sound like a coupl'a episodes of a radio drama." Alice smiled gently, sipping her own cocktail. "Well, let's see, on the second thing Alan Bailey thinks she's been done away with by the evil husband."

"Everybody an' their Uncle knows that." Fiona sniffed critically. "He's spouted the theory all over the newspapers fer the last fortnight. Don't know why Philip Mountsere isn't filing for libel."

"Don't know why Mountsere isn't filing for divorce, myself. Considering his wife and Bailey have been, er, doing things behind the arras for months."

"Jeez, never heard it called that, afore." Fiona laughed loudly, nearly spilled her cocktail and had to lean over to place it on the low table by the sofa. "Nearly made me choke, there, darlin'. The reason he ain't filing is because, y'might have noticed, the dame's disappeared. Can't have a divorce without the party of the second part, can we?"

"Oh, ha-ha."

"Let's see," Fiona straining to list all the facts in some kind of logical order. "Mollie Milligan, as was, the famous torch nightclub singer, marries the famous millionaire Phillip Mountsere and lives happily—"

"—for about three months, apparently," Alice coming in on the curve, like a racing driver. "before, as everyone now knows, she picks up with the toad Alan Bailey—"

"—just 'cause he's a newspaper theatre critic hardly justifies that level of disparagement, does it?"

"Yeah, it does."

"Oh."

In the pause which followed both women went about taking the strain off in their individual ways; Fiona shuffled the various thin files she had spread on the nearby coffee-table, looking for inspiration in the trio of cases they were now engaged on; while Alice, feeling thirsty, retired to the counter on the far side of the room presently serving as bar, where she added something with a bit of a kick to her otherwise bland cocktail.

"Wow-za, that does the trick; want one, lover?"

"Hell, no; I don't wan'na be the second one waking in the morning with three pile-drivers working away in my head. You're gon'na regret that drink, lady; never say ya weren'—"

"Fay, give over; so, what about the Frederick's Store lay? That's a bit of a stunner, ain't it?"

Fiona picked up the appropriate file, glancing through it, though she already knew its contents by heart.

"Mr George Halbertson, manager-owner of the General Store in question—"

"—out by Ocean Boulevard—"

"Who's reading this here file, you or me?"

"Oh, OK, carry on, I'm sure."

"Huumph; God, where was I?"

"Nowhere, you'd hardly started—"

"God, it's only 'cause I loves ya t'bits I stands fer this kind'a abuse."

"Ha-ha."

Regaining her poise, after a deep breath, Fiona echoed the contents of the file in her hand once again.

"One morning, six days ago, he opens up his store and finds he's been cleared out in the night—"

"—all his wares on the shelves; all his shelves, come to that; all his loose merchandise; most of the advertising material dotted around the aisles; hell, they even took the Coke machine!"

Fiona sighed, realising this was going to be a difficult evening.

"I put it down t'that there drink, is all."

"What?"

"Nuthin', dear. So, there Mr Halbertson stood, not King of all he surveyed, 'cause most of what he wanted t'survey had been nicked in the dead o'night, ha-ha. Oh dear, I shouldn't laugh."

"Especially as he's paying us to find the culprits; his Insurance company having laughed in his face when he filed for recompense; they being pretty sure it was an inside job, probably masterminded by Halbertson in person."

"Which, as you know, is more or less what Inspector Jacob Fletcher thinks, too; excepting there's no evidence, as yet, to back his theory."

"The 5th Precinct living down to its reputation, once again." Alice not forbearing to smirk with a devilish expression. "You seen the reports in the papers over the last few days? They're castigating poor ol' Fletcher like to as if he was a reincarnation of Savonarola."

The fluctuating reputations of the local police force hardly interested Fiona at the present moment; she returning to the matter in hand with grim determination.

"Colin Weiss's lookin' after the whole Frederick's shebang for us; he's a good private dick, he'll get results, eventually. Leaves us free t'pursue this dam' Rauschmann set-up. Talkin' of which, you decided t'turn in that pile o'scrap, an' buy a real car, yet? Yet, meanin' in the next day or so?"

"Fiddle-de-dee, lady." Alice never one to take orders quietly. "I suppose I must, but don't push me; buying a new car's like changing houses; it's almost a life-changing experience for those involved, y'know.

"Dear God."

"What?"

"Nuthin', lover." Fiona knowing a lost cause when one flipped the bird in her face. "Y'heard from Rose Quigley, about the Milligan affair, yet?"

"Nah, yesterday, on the phone, she said she'd corral a couple of her gals and start investigating Milligan's known movements; ditto, those of Bailey and Mountsere." Alice returned to the sofa, sitting by Fiona's side carefully, drinks' glass in hand. "She's another good 'tec; she'll get results, too. Colin going after that yellow truck some of the witnesses purported to have seen near the Store on the night in question?"

Fiona, still flicking through the necessary file, nodded absently.

"Three witnesses said they saw it nearby, on parallel streets; two sayin' it definitely came round from Caitlin Street, where Frederick's sits, early that mornin'. Worth takin' some notice off, y'never know."

"Yeah." Alice sighed, then yawned with vigour. "God, I'm tired; bed beckons, dear. How's about dumping those dam' files an' thinking instead about keeping a lonely gal company between the sheets."

"You want an early night?" Fiona laid back against the sofa, grinning at her loved partner. "Sleepy-bye-bye's waving its flag in your face?"

"Not especially quickly, no; if you get my meaning, lover."

"Oh-ah."

"I'll take that as a yes. Come on, lady." Alice rising from the sofa, bending to take Fiona's unresisting hand in hers. "Know the way to bed, d'you? It's round this corner, then down this short corridor—oh, look, there's the very door; who'd a'guessed—follow me, to the Land of all Desires, lover."

"Uurrhh!"

—O—

The next morning, sharp at 10.30am, the private office of the Drever and Cartwright Detective Agency looked like a council of the American Armed Forces going over a hastily contrived War Contingency plan. Apart from the legitimate legatees of the room, Fiona and Alice, also present were Colin Weiss of Artamac Detection Ltd.; Rose Quigley of Craig Rogers Detective Agency; Conrad Phelps of City Logistics Inc.; and Sally Nairne of the Grey Granite Insurance Co.—all talking at once.

"—which is the stated position of the Board of Members, as things stand—"

"—not a dam' hope—"

"—we thought we were; but it turned out, we wasn't; jes' one of those things, is all—"

"—yellow vans, yellow lorries, yellow trucks, yellow pick-ups; yellow whatever. What, ya want I give every dam' taxi in the city the once over? What?—"

"—then she dies; well, seventy-one, an' a bad heart, what's t'consider. Scratch one witness, is all—"

"—is the scuttle-butt true, ya both had a doozy of a night, out at Rauschmann's, a coupl'a nights ago? Wish I'd been there—"

"—got your new car, yet, Al?—"

"Qui—eet!"

Somewhere, on the next floor up in the Packer building, a pencil fell off a table onto the floor—everyone jumped.

"That's better."

Fiona, seated at the long table as was everyone else, gazed round at the assembled elite of Delacote's detectives and insurance agents, or so she fervently hoped.

"Let's take things in an ordered sequence, shall we? Thanks. Right, Colin, give us your report on the Frederick's fiasco, so far."

"You ain't joking, ma'am." Colin nodding at the truth of his own words. "Fiasco by name, an' fiasco by nature. George Halbertson, idiot that he undoubtedly is, leaves his store locked with only one Parkinson deadbolt a child of five could swing in a minute an' a half; comes back in the morning an' finds half the citizens of Delacote have been through his tightly locked doors an' swiped dam' everything movable, an' some that weren't. Dam' fool."

Fiona sighed, sadly.

"Was hoping for something in the way of a report just a mite more professional, y'know."

"OK, OK, I get ya." Colin not in the least put out. "First off, Halbertson's security was hopeless; single deadbolt on the main door, forty years old if a day; at the rear a Yale that couldn't keep a mouse out; two wide windows there, at the rear, fastened only with inside latches, dear God. The front lock had been picked; the rear lock slipped, probably with the football photo-card from a pack of cigarettes; the windows opened by unfastening the latches once the perps were inside: end result, a clear run from home an' hearth, ergo Frederick's, to wherever the perps took their loot—could be anywhere from Florida t'Canada, considering the time an' freedom of movement they've had. I'd say, dump the Frederick's case in the nearest pigeon-hole an' forget the dam' thing."

"Ah." Alice mulling this report over with a dark frown, only partly due to her pounding headache that morning. "Well, keep at it, Colin; y'never know."

"Humph."

"What's your Company's policy on the matter, Sally?" Alice trying to cover all eventualities.

"We ain't payin' out a red cent, is what, ladies." Sally shaking her head with determination. "Never seen a clearer example of an inside job in my life. Burglary, my arse; Halbertson's probably deep in debt trouble, took this line as an easy out; but we, at Grey Granite, ain't playing."

Fiona made a mark in her latest open file, then turned to Rose.

"What's the gen on the Milligan set-up?"

"We're going over all the perps' alibis, some of them dam' complicated." Rose shrugged her broad shoulders. "We got'ta follow up Mountsere's business; Bailey's comings and goings; then try an' figure out just what Mollie was doing prior to her disappearance; it ain't goin' t'be easy, no sir'ree. What about you gals, and the Rauschmann lay?"

Fiona bared her teeth without in any way smiling.

"G-dd-m Rauschmann."

"Oh, like that, eh?"

"Dam' straight, sister."

Alice here, like a hero, jumped into the open breach of the conference.

"There's money in lumber; they'll be back, an' when they are, we'll be waitin' for them, again.—"

"Too true, lady." From Fiona, trying to mend old memories, without success.

"—at which time," Alice continued, deliberately not looking at her partner. "we'll have better gun control an', I allows, my new Plymouth—"

"—new Something—"

"What was that, dear?"

"Nuthin', sweetheart,—do go on; your voice's like silver trumpets in my ears."

"Har-har-har, you wait." Alice shaking her head sadly. "Yes, there's plenty of profit in lumber; not a crime you read much about in the papers; after all, who wants to know about someone's stolen planks or logs—there ain't no drama or tragedy in that. So, it goes unrecorded by the Public at large, an' even the local police don't take much note; wood, in any form, being a lot less dangerous to the public's health than snow or weed or laudanum, or moonshine, or whatever—"

"—not moonshine, any longer, lady; just sayin'."

"—ah, that's right; scratch moonshine, but the rest stands." Alice triumphing over a slight temporary difficulty. "They'll be back to Rauschmann's, never fear; and when they are Fay an' I'll be waiting their arrival, dam' straight."

—O—

"That went well." Fiona contemplating their conference an hour later in a much less crowded office. "Well-ish, anyway."

"I've been thinking, lover."

Now Fiona could have had, if she so wished, a multitude of snappy answers to this admission; but, also being the tender-hearted softie she was she let it go, just this once.

"About what, lady? Not but there ain't a dam' lot to think about here.""

"The Milligan affair's a missing person/personal issue lay; but Rauschmann and Frederick's are both robberies—big-time robberies, at that. Do you suppose they might be connected?"

Fiona opened her mouth to cut her inamorata off, then thought better of it.

"We-ell, it ain't impossible, but d'ya see any connection, doll?"

"Trucks."

Fiona thought about this remark, too.

"In what manner, lover?"

"The witnesses all talked about a yellow truck being seen near the Frederick's robbery; time and place matching." Alice's eye lit up as she examined her own theory. "Then, two days since, when we had that little mishap at Rauschmann's—"

"—Oh, is that what it was, dear?"

"—the truck there, as you know, got away—but we both caught a glimpse of it by the street-light on the corner of the lane—it was yellow, too—only saying."

Fiona, sitting at the office table idly twiddling a metal paper-clip, paused in her action, then paused some more.

"Now, lady o' my heart; that there's something very much worth while thinkin' about. How in Hades ya come up with that bright gem, at this late stage in the junket? Ya surprise me, babe."

"Whoop-ee."

"Ya got Colin's private number?"

"Yeah, in the notebook by the phone, over there."

Two minutes later Fiona had contacted Colin Weiss's company, though this was just the start of her problems.

"What? Who're you? Miss Travers? So, who are ya? Oh, Colin's secretary; OK, it's like this I wan'na talk with him, pronto—what's that? About what? Baby, that's between me an' him. You what? Listen lady, you're a secretary right now, but how'd ya like t'be sellin' newspapers on the corner of Dalquharran Street a week from now? Oh, that's ripe; listen buster, put me through t'Colin right now, before I decide t'come over there in person—ya wouldn't like me in person, lady, take my word on it. Colin? That you-thank Chr-st. No, no; just, gettin' through t'ya's like tryin' t'break in'ta the Bank of England, is all.—"

All this time Alice was sitting by her side, enthralled.

"—what do I want? A holiday on a desert island, without a secretary within a thousand mile, would be a good starter. What's that, have I lost my marbles? Just about, laddie. Listen up, I rang up t'tell ya something;—g-dd-m it, what was I gon'na say, Al?

"About the yello—"

"Oh, I remember, now—yellow trucks, Colin." Fiona casting her partner's help aside like an empty cigarette pack. "What's that? Colin, jes' 'cause I start talkin' about yellow trucks, there's no need t'use that sort'a language—there might be ladies present, then where'd ya be, ha-ha."

Alice shook her head sadly; lovers, what could you do with them, sometimes.

"Yeah, yeah, Colin; for goodness' sake get a grip. Yeah, I know yellow trucks are invadin' yer dreams, an' you think you'll need'ta visit the local Asylum in a day or two. The thing is, Al here, an' I've seen the dam' things, too. Yeah, I ain't kiddin'. No, I wouldn't presume to lay it on someone down on their luck. Colin, fer God's sake, pull yourself t'gether. Yeah, yellow trucks, at both Rauschmann's an' Frederick's. Ya get the implication? Thank God. Right, get on it; see if there's any concrete connection between the two. Yeah, Al an' I're goin' back out t'Rauschmann's in an hour or so. Yep, another night-time stake-out. No, she's rented a Dodge sedan. Yeah, let's hope so. Right, see ya, bye. God, that was a chore."

"You may be a great detective, lover, but your telephone skills need smoothing out a trifle. Don't look at me that way—only a simple observation, is all."

"Rrrrh."

—O—

Rauschmann's Lumber Yard, on Parley Street, Carntyne, Delacote City, sat in the midst of an extensive factory district. Or, at least, what had formerly been such, before the Great Depression. Now, in 1934, it was something of a ghost-town; three-quarters of the factories having shut down, and the remaining businesses hanging on by the skin of their teeth. Raushmann's concern being one of the few which still made a yearly profit —there always being a market for lumber, no matter the state of the Nation as a whole.

The time was 11.30pm under a dark overcast sky, making the black shadows cast by the street-lights even darker. There was a new lock on the main gate, everyone had gone home, and Fiona and Alice were once more hiding behind the long office block, awaiting visitors; Alice's rented Dodge safely tucked away round a corner behind a fifty foot long stack of maturing planks that rose thirty feet in the air, like a wooden version of a prison wall.

"What in hell makes you think they'll be stupid enough to come back so soon?"

"They came for that South American teak Rauschmann's just brought in." Fiona on top of this enquiry. "Hot stuff, real good teak, these days; worth a dam' fortune. It's a certainty they'll come back for another try; that's what the truck's for, y'see."

"Oh-ah."

"Y'don't sound convinced, ducks?"

"Oh, I believe you, sure." Alice giving her paramour's shoulder an affectionate rub, where they crouched in the dark. "What I'm trying to work out is, who's responsible? You agreeing with me this thing, here, and the Frederick's store fiasco's part of the same deal?"

"Yeah?"

"I was thinking, the only super-criminal within a radius of three hundred miles of where we're sitting in this dam' mud, right now, is—"

"Guistino Jimmy Favelli."

"Ah, you're ahead of me, good." Alice nodding happily in the dimness. "Which means Inspector Fletcher'll already have jumped to the same conclusion."

"Ha, wonder how Favelli feels, bein' the cynosure of every cop's eyes in the entire city?" Fiona smiling at the thought, herself.

"What I wonder is, what'll he say to us when we visit him tomorrow."

"Oh, that's what's on our schedule tomorrow, eh?"

"Next logical step, lady."

"You're right, you are."

Their whispered conversation was here broken into by the sound of activity at the main gate. Scratching noises, scrapes and skitterings like a giant rat searching for food, a muffled and hesitant step or two; then the sound of bolt-cutters doing what bolt-cutters did, followed immediately by the slow screech as the main gates were opened to their full width.

"This's it, lover; we'll let 'em back the truck in'ta the yard, then I'll let loose with a war-whoop." Fiona in full control of their previously worked-out plan of action. "If they surrender, fine an' dandy; if they open up, shoot everything that moves, an' anything that doesn't but catches yer eye, OK?"

"It's a plan."

The low rumble of a large engine, turning over at its very quietest, followed; with the low swish as its tyres trundled over the uneven surface of the yard before it came to a halt with a loud screech of brakes.

"Ya f-ckin' idiot."

"Sorry, the clutch slipped; it's a bloody old tru—"

"Cut the crap; let's find the dam' wood an' get the truck loaded. If he was right it should be along this alley, here. Don't wan'na spend any more time than necessary here, unless ya wan'na spend the next five year in a cell. Do ya, Willie?"

"Fer Chr-st's sake don't call me by name, out here in the open, ya bloody fool."

"Who's a bloody fool? I'll give ya—"

Fed up, by this juncture, listening to the idle chit-chat of the criminal classes whilst out about their nefarious undertakings, Fiona made her presence known.

"Hi'ya boys. Wan'na come quietly, or are we gon'na argue about it?"

The next 30 seconds, in Rauschmann's place of business, became known in local history as the Famous Lumber Yard Shoot-out. Newspaper articles extolled the drama which ensued. Monthly magazines went into great depth about who stood where, and who shot whom, and for how long and exactly how many bullets were expended on both sides. There was even talk of a Film Company making a Cagney movie of it. But on the night in question, in the actual Yard, Fiona and Alice would have been hard pressed to know exactly what was going forward themselves.

Crack-Crack.

Bang-Bang-Bang.

Bang.

Crack.

Bang-Bang-Bang-Bang.

"G-dd-m, I got'ta reload." Alice hissing this in a frustrated snarl.

"Got one." Fiona almost laughing at this turn of events.

Crack-Crack-"The other's tryin' t'get in the truck, I'm on him." Alice, like a leopard in the dark.

Bang-Bang-Crack-Crack-Wher-ang-"Jeesus, I'm hit in the face—aah, aah." Alice dropping her weapon to put her hands over her face, feeling blood on her fingers. "Aagh, I'm hit, g-dd-m it."

Bang-Bang-Bang-"G-dd-m, he's gone; run off like a skunk. What's that, lover?"

"I'm hit."

"Jeez."

And the shoot-out was over, with casualties on both sides.

"Lem'me see, lem'me see."

Fiona put her own hands over those of her lover, as they crouched in the dark by a rank of horizontally stacked planks. Then she scuttered around till she found her handbag by her side on the ground, jerking a large flashlight out and pointing its bright ray in her partner's face.

Although her features were hidden by her widespread fingers Fiona could see streams of blood running in faint black lines down the backs of Alice's hands.

"Come on. Let me take a look, darlin'."

A minute later, after some fiddling with the torch and gentle attention on Fiona's part the worst was made plain.

"It's scratches, doll, from splinters of wood." Fiona took a deep breath of relief on her part. "Some nasty cuts, but I don't think there's any permanent damage that iodine an' a few plasters won't take care of; but we'll get ya to the nearest hospital pronto, all the same."

"What happened." In a tiny, shocked voice from the patient.

"Bullet must'a ricochetted off one of these dam' planks; the splinters cutting yer face, lover; but not badly, no real damage done, believe me. The doctors'll soon fix ya as good as new, don't worry."

"Get me in the Dodge, lover, an' drive as fast as hell t'the hospital." Alice sounding, in the dark, pretty well scared. "I want treatment for this as soon's you like. What about the perp you shot?"

"Gim'me a second t'see." Fiona rising like an Avenging Angel to stride into the darkness. "Back in a second; if he ain't out of his misery yet, I'll dam' well make sure now, f-ck him."

But, less than a minute later when she returned, there had been no further shots from Fiona's .45 Colt automatic.

"Dead as mutton, doll. Two shots in the chest. Come on, let's get ya to the hospital. Easy, easy."

—O—

The next morning, close to noon, Inspector Fletcher's office at the 5th Precinct was the scene of a War council. The Inspector sat behind his desk, chewing the customary cheap unlit cigar; Fiona sat opposite beside her inamorata; Alice's face swathed in so many bandages she looked like the main star of a bad Mummy movie.

"Y'sure you're OK, Al?" Jacob Fletcher really meaning the enquiry as he looked appalled at his old friend. "Jeez, ya look—"

"I dam' well know how I look, Fletch," Alice's voice muffled by bandages, and sedative. "I'm-that is, I'm—I mean I'm fine, more or less."

"She's drugged up t'the eyeballs, Fletch." Fiona reporting the necessary details of their last night's and this early morning's goings-on. "About sixteen nurses an' doctors worked on her all night. But, they tell us, they've made her better'n new, finally-thank God."

"Yeah, I echoes that thought, too." Fletcher nodding in agreement. "So, where are we, then? You gon'na take some time off; t'recover, an' what'all?"

"Like Hell, we are." Alice coming out fighting, like an ailing boxer in the fifth round who ought to know better, but doesn't. "Now I'm pissed-off, for real. Nobody tries t'blow my head off, an' gets away with same, you better believe it."

"Ah."

"Got anything on the whole dam' thing at the lumber yard yet, Fletch?" Fiona angling for information, as any good private dick should.

Ordinarily Fletcher would keep a tight secretive grip on his officers' activities; but this was a special occasion.

"The perp ya took down; nice shootin' by the way, Fay—"

"Thanks, it weren't nuthin'."

"Anyway, he's been identified as Jake Henrikson; a two-bit thug."

"An' the one that got away?" Alice sounding meaner than a polecat with a hangover.

"Oh, he got away, but left his prints behind."

"Nice of him." Fiona smiling grimly.

"George Chapman by name, a roustabout by nature—big muscles, no brains, ya know the type."

Both women nodded, Alice more slowly and carefully than her partner.

"The truck, jest t'pass on the details, is—"

"Yellow—" Alice butted in, hardly audible behind her all-covering bandages.

"Yeah, it is," Fletcher impressed as all get-out. "how'd ya guess? A yellow Dodge truck. Plentifully etched over, so my boys tell me, with Chapman's prints."

"Any idea who's behind their lust for expensive wood wall paneling?" Alice, still mean but now with a purpose in life.

"We all, here at the Fifth Precinct, have our money squarely on Favelli, of course."

Both women nodded in chorus again.

"Thought as much." Fiona sighing with pent-up nastiness. "Well, are you an' the boys in blue gon'na go out there, corral him in his den, an' shoot him to shreds—or do ya want Al, here, an' I should have that pleasure?"

"Let's not go off at half-cock, ladies." Fletcher, whatever his private thoughts on the matter, standing up for Law and the other thing, as by duty bound. "I've been out there myself, in Todmorton, three times in the last week; end result, nothing. There ain't no evidence, no legally binding evidence, to connect him with anything—the Rauschmann Lumber Yard or Frederick's store."

"Still leaves us private 'tecs the chance to go over an' spoil his day with our own enquiries, though." Alice's muffled tones growing stronger with every word.

"You sure you're gon'na be able t'stand on your feet for another hour or so, Al?" Fletcher looking at the bandaged woman with true sympathy. "Ya look as if a week in bed, with someone close lookin' ter yer every need, is about what your schedule should be."

"I'll get by, at least for another few hours." Alice rising slowly to her feet. "The doctors pumped me full'a God knows what sedative an' painkillers an' buck-me-up's. I feel as if I could go on for a whole week without effort—aah!"

She here tottering on her feet Fiona jumped in with a steadying arm.

"Easy, gal, easy. It's OK, Fletch, I'll look after the lady fine. Come on, lover; let's get ya in the fresh air—see how that makes ya feel. Bye, Fletch."

"Go easy, gals. Good luck, Al."

"Thanks, Fletch." Alice recovering her stamina with each passing second. "It's Favelli who ought to be looking to his health, right now, ha-ha."

"Uumph."

—O—

The district of Todmorton, the most affluent in Delacote City, lay to the south on the lower slopes of the ridge which backed the city, giving a fine view of the ocean. The dwellings there were all on the high side, miniature palaces, in effect; most dating from the turn of the century or just before the Crash. Guistino Jimmy Favelli, biggest crime boss in New Hampshire, resided in a two-storied Spanish-style rancho surrounded by an acre of lawn and gardens; its white-washed walls reflecting the sun like a mirror as Fiona and Alice pulled up in the drive before the main entrance, 20 yards from the main gate.

"You still up for this, Al?"

"Yeah, I'm fine." Alice not bowing out at this interesting stage. "I'm so full'a pick-me-up's I could go ten with Max Baer, easy."

"Har, come on; wait a mo', whiles I locks the car—don't know what might happen to it, round these parts, lover."

The man who opened the door to Fiona's knock was a tall heavy Polynesian in a dark suit. From his expression he wasn't impressed by his visitors.

"Wha'ya wan'? If yer sellin', beat it, we don't buy round here."

While he was starin' at Alice, or at least what there was on view of her, Fiona came in with the sucker-punch.

"We're long time pals o'Jimmy's, buster. The longer ya keep's us out here in the heat, the angrier yer master gets, savvy?"

Two minutes later, though still obviously against the doorman's inclinations, they stood in the long brightly lit lounge, Jimmy Favelli reclining on a white leather sofa from which he immediately rose, to view Alice all the closer.

"Jeez, what happened t'you? A stick o'dynamite go off in yer face, or what?"

"Jes' a little ruckus' out by Rauschmann's Lumber yard, is all." Fiona filling in for her partner, who remained distantly and ominously silent. "You'll need ta go elsewhere fer yer re-decorating, Jimmy—in the few weeks ya still have before ya go t'the County Clink fer good an' all."

Jimmy, a solidly built, though not fat, man in his early fifties, looked fresh and cool in his grey silk suit; though now with a puzzled expression on his swarthy features; he being a first generation immigrant from the mother country.

"Ladies, ladies—I din' do nuthin'."

Long pause, he still regarding Alice's well-bandaged face with considerable interest.

"So, wha'd I do, then—make me smile, go on."

Neither Alice nor Fiona were in a humorous mood, Fiona even less so than her lover. She showing this now by casually putting her right hand in her large handbag and bringing it out clutching her .45 Colt automatic, which she commenced to cock, though still pointing it at the heavy carpet.

"Jimmy, fun's over—I don't take to goons tryin' t'blast my lover's head off. Now, in present circumstances, if anyone needs their head blown off—well, I'm here, with my roscoe, an' you're over there, jes' oozin' ter be my target. How's it feel, ya bum, t'be so close t'death?"

Even Jimmy Favelli, long-time crime boss as he undoubtedly was, knew when the chips were down and some real top-class dialogue was wanted.

"Ladies, what's this all about? What d'ya think I've done? I got witnesses ter place me here, in my pad, fer the last week clear. I got'ta alibi fer every day o'the last ten days. What more can I say?"

"Your prayers?" Alice joining the sport of putting the wind up the criminal, because she dam' well felt like so doing. "Last night, at Rauschmann's, I dam' nearly got my face shot off. All down t'you, ya g-dd-m bum. Right now, all Fay wants is ter see the colour o'both yer brains an' blood. Can't say's as I'm agin same, neither. Any last words? An' don't try bringing Law an' Order, an' Inspector Fletcher in'ta the game; there's only us here, right now; an' Fay an' I're real pissed, ya joker. Fay, put one in his left lower shin, I feels like a laugh, right now."

"OK, doll, whatever ya says."

Faced, going solely by their demeanor and expressions, by some of the more unforgiving female warriors from a Wagner opera, Favelli gulped audibly and started making sense.

"Look, ladies, let's be sensible about this. Something, somewhere, may have gone somewhat belly-up, I agrees; but ya can't pin the blame on me. I mean—"

"Fay, shoot the b-st-rd."

Fiona, only moderately going along with what she took as Alice's bluff, she feeling much more like doing so for real, raised her automatic—Jimmy flinching visibly.

"OK, gals, OK, let's not go off the deep-end." He breaking out in a nervous sweat, beading his forehead. "Wha' d'ya wan'? I got money; stacks o'money. Ya wan' a pay-off? How much?"

Fiona, lowering her gun, put a bullet in the carpet close to his left foot; Favelli jerking like a rabbit caught in a car's headlights. There was a crash as the big Polynesian came through the door from the outside corridor, hand fumbling in pocket—but Alice was well ahead of him, pointing her own .38 revolver at his large bulk.

"One more move, buster, an' you're dead meat. Whatever ya got in that pocket, let it stay there. Carry on, Fay."

"Ya made me waste a bullet there, Jimmy; the next I won't waste, if'n ya get my meanin'?"

Seeing the game was up, his life expectancy teetering on the edge of a sheer cliff, Jimmy sighed and came clean.

"It was Bluey Carmichael, over to the Bronx." Having finally decided to grass on his partners Favelli, much to his own surprise, found he could now hardly stop talking. "You know Bluey, don' ya gals? One of the biggest bum—er, I mean business-men in NY. When Bluey says jump, why, even I got'ta go along with the jerk."

"What did he want with Rauschmann's?" Fiona lifting an enquiring eyebrow.

"To haul out that dam' wood; teak, or some such." Favelli shrugged, as if unable to define some people's motives. "Said the stuff was dam' rare, an' dam' expensive; had a buyer all set up, back in NY apparently—was gon'na make thousands out'ta the deal, so he made out. It's the truth, ladies, s'whelp me."

"And Frederick's Store?" Alice, behind her bandages, beginning to be aware the assorted chemicals pumped into her system overnight were very definitely now starting to wear off. "What did clearing out that place achieve?"

"Scare tactics, is all, ladies." Favelli shrugged again. "My little bit o'work, that. Something fer my retirement, y'know."

"No, we don't know—so, tell us?" Fiona waving her weapon around meaningfully.

"The whole block, where Halbertson has his store, is otherwise empty of businesses; didn't ya notice?" Jimmy, seeing daylight at the end of a long and dark tunnel, began to re-assume some of his lost bravado. "I got people in City Hall, tell me things on the quiet, y'know. That block's up fer renovation; they're gon'na buy the remaining tenants out, sell it off, an' build something big an' expensive on the whole dam' site. Anybody owns something like the old Frederick's store why, they're sittin' on possible a hundred thousand in legal Government pay-off, is all. Well, what'd you do in the circumstances? I thought, a little fright tactics; Halbertson gets the jim-jams, sells out t'one of my front guys, an' I get t'holiday in Florida fer the next ten year. That's all."

Fiona looked at Alice; Alice looked at Fiona; then they both sighed, turned, and made for the door.

Just as Alice stepped, ahead of her lover, into the corridor, she spoke over her shoulder, in a light completely throw-away manner.

"Fay, ya still haven't shot that creep in the shin, like I asked."

So Fiona did.

Bang

"Yaa-rrgh!"

—O—

Two days later the ladies had resumed tenancy of their office in the Packer Building; Inspector Fletcher had castigated them both, though only lightly, for plugging Favelli in self defence as they all agreed; Halbertson was overjoyed at the thought of becoming a sub-millionaire for no output on his part whatever; and Rauschmann had invested in tighter security all round; only the slight matter of the Mollie Milligan scenario still awaited clearing-up.

"So, what about Mollie Milligan?" Alice tenderly patting the bandages still more or less covering her slightly knocked-about features. "God, these wrappings sting, don't know what the doctors soaked 'em in; ya said, when I arrived earlier, you'd had news on that score."

Just as Fiona opened her mouth to answer the phone rang; it being nearest Alice she stepped up to the mark.

"Hallo, Drever and Car—oh, it's you, Rose; what's up? You don't—what?—oh. She did what? I'll be dam'med. And she—yeah, yeah. Oh, God. And they're all happy as larks, as a consequence? What a party; yeah, that's it cleared up, dam'mit. No, no, don't worry, Fay an' I'll be puttin' our bill in for full time and expences, sure thing. Yeah, bye, gal; thanks."

A quiet peaceful pause, gentle composed and ready to stay a while, filtered into the office; then Fiona could take the strain no longer.

"What?"

"What?" Alice, still taken up with her uncomfortable facial bandages, glanced over at her paramour. "Oh, that was Rose."

"I sort'a figured." Fiona letting loose some of her till now restrained sarcasm.

"She's broken the Mollie Milligan lay—or, at least, had it broken for her."

Another pause made a tentative appearance, but Fiona was having none of it.

"Gon'na keep it all t'yourself, dear; or can mere partners have a look-in?"

"Oh, the details, OK." Alice sat forward; it just being apparent she was smiling through her bandages. "Mollie Milligan's returned; seems she took a powder t'Niagara, is all. She being fed up with all the attention she's been gettin' from goons she's seemingly now fallen out with."

"So what you're sayin', doll, is Bailey's taken a hike, an' Mountsere's taken Mollie back into the connubial corral?"

"That about covers it, yeah. All happy ever after, if you can believe it."

"Hardly."

"Me neither." Alice being as impassive as the news merited. "Well, that's us, darling; free as birds once more, and ready for anything new the world can throw at us. What's scheduled for the day, then?"

"T'hell with the day." Fiona had been making her secret plans over the last twenty-four hours. "What you an' I are gon'na do, right now, is climb in your new-rented Dodge sedan, buy a tent som'er's, an' then head fer the White Mountains. There, fer the next ten days, we ain't gon'na do anythin' but laze around like mistresses of all creation, is all. How's that sound t'you, doll?"

"Meets my every requirement of Life, lover—I'm in. Who's drivin', it being a long way, y'know? You, love o' my life?"

"Oh, God, should'a seen that comin'. OK, ya gorgeous doll ya, OK.

"Hurrah."

The End.

—O—

Another 'Drever and Cartwright' story will arrive shortly.

—OOO—